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The future of assessment in Higher Education/El futuro de la evaluacion en la educacion superior.

We believe education, particularly Higher Education because of its broad scope, to be the prime engine of change and transformation towards a more just, responsible and equitable society for all. Consequently, our fundamental tenet is that learning should be at the centre of education, meaning that the success of Higher Education should not be measured by the quality of teaching offered by institutions, departments, courses or lecturers, but by the quality of student learning. Until now it has been more common, as well as easier, to focus primarily on teaching and learning. Assessment has been relegated to a secondary level or, at least, considered as an issue where effecting change is more difficult. But what should assessment in Higher Education mean in the years to come? What are the challenges? Where should future research and innovation in assessment be focused? How can assessment contribute to the development of responsible citizenship?

These questions involve rethinking assessment based on new approaches and perspectives, considering and analysing the technical and technological opportunities and modifying current assessment practices from a critical and creative perspective.

Rethinking assessment

If, at the end of the last century, interest was focused on the technical dimension of assessment processes (validity and reliability), in recent years we have witnessed the progressive conceptual development of assessment which has generated new ways of conceiving and understanding assessment in Higher Education. Approaches such as assessment for learning (Sambell et. al., 2013), learning-oriented assessment (Carless, 2015) or assessment as learning (Dann 2014, Earl 2013) have provided a new vision on assessment that is crystallizing in a rethinking of the role and nature of assessment in Higher Education. Based on this important concept new and interrelated approaches are now contributing to essential changes in assessment.

In sustainable assessment (Boud & Soler, 2016) the emphasis is placed on the need for assessment to contribute to student learning beyond the narrow spatio-temporal limits of a specific course or subject. It is about offering students the opportunities and the necessary preparation to be able to autonomously satisfy their future learning needs and develop their evaluative judgment (Boud et al., 2018), that is, their ability to make judgments about their own work and that of others.

Assessment as learning and empowerment (Rodriguez-Gomez & Ibarra-Saiz, 2015) highlights, among other aspects, the collaborative nature of assessment through the participation of students in decision-making in each and every one of the phases and stages of the assessment process, from the initial design to the final qualification. In short, it is the students themselves, both individually and as a group, who assess their own work, are critical of the assessment practices used and are creative in offering alternatives to those proposed.

Assessment, analysed from the critical prism of social justice, leads us to the need to understand it as a social practice that develops within an environment plagued by multiple contradictions and tensions in which it is necessary to rethink basic concepts such as trust, honesty, responsibility, forgiveness and responsiveness (McArthur, 2018). To consider the issues from this perspective, as this author has emphasized, invokes the idea of challenging accepted practices and of looking for alternatives and the possibility of doing things differently. This requires preparing for the discomfort, the pain and the danger of questioning conventional practices, whilst also enjoying the benefit of collaborating for a more just society.

Assessment will only be useful insofar as it is relevant for students, politicians, leaders and institutional managers, tutors, academics and society in general. Collaborative processes need to be established in which different interest groups participate (professional associations, social agents, accreditation agencies, etc.) to identify and define what, in the light of these new approaches, is really significant in assessment and encourages the transition from assessment considered from an individual perspective led by academics, to a truly collaborative and shared method of assessment.

Technology at the service of assessment and learning

The use of technology has been shown to deliver efficient and consistent assessment, but little attention has been paid to its contribution to rethinking the relationships between learning and assessment and the role that technology can play in supporting vital changes (Timmis et al., 2016). It is increasingly possible for learning systems to be designed efficiently and to ensure that students complete their programs by knowing and doing what is required of them. However, new tools need to be developed that reflect innovative pedagogical principles, harnessing technologies that support more democratic, equitable, creative and socially just methods of assessment.

Students will have to face new and challenging problems for which the solutions cannot actually be taught because no one has ever faced them before. In this context, technology should incorporate collaborative and participatory assessment modalities; provide students with opportunities to make decisions within contexts of uncertainty; offer assessment alternatives that allow them to demonstrate their achievements in creative and novel ways; develop skills and abilities that prepare them for employability and citizenship (Brown, 2015); support the development of their evaluative judgment (Boud et al., 2018) and thus enhance their self-regulation and lifelong learning.

Redesigning assessment practice

Although assessment practice has shown strong resistance to change, it is important to consider some aspects related to the quality of the method and instruments of assessment used and of the assessment task themselves, so that the process is technically convincing. In addition, questions must be asked about the sustainability of the assessment itself, its viability, its efficiency and its implementation over time at a reasonable and appropriate personal and professional cost.

There is already a well-established international movement that calls for more authentic assessment tasks, real and contextualized challenges that students will face in the world when they leave Higher Education (Ashford-Rowe et al., 2014; Boud & Soler, 2016; Dann, 2014; McArthur, 2018). This trend will accelerate, and it will soon become the norm for assessment tasks to be seen and felt as activities undertaken in the real world. Likewise, assessment tasks will increasingly reflect professional scenarios, so that students learn what is meaningful for themselves and for the social and professional world they are entering. The progressive development and use of virtual reality or computer simulations will contribute to the authenticity of these tasks.

Educational research has identified the crucial importance of feedback and his role as mediator of learning (Ibarra-Saiz et al., 2020). Previously attention has been paid to aspects such as the speed, level of detail, clarity, structure or relevance of the information provided. But attention needs to be refocused onto what feedback means to students and on the interaction between the students and those who deliver the feedback (teachers, peers, tutors). The current unidirectional character of feedback (from tutor to student) needs to transform into a process of collaborative communication with multiple channels through which teachers and students interact and enable a dialogue between all participants with the clear intention of making learning happen (Nicol et al., 2014; Rowe, 2017).

In short, as indicated by Boud (2019), any assessment activity that does not serve to develop in ever more effective ways the ability of students to assess their own work and that of others, that is, their evaluative judgment, cannot be considered as sustainable assessment. This implies using assessment as an activity to shape and develop the evaluative judgment of learners, and not just to make unilateral decisions about them. How will students learn effectively if they are not able to assess the quality of their own work? If students cannot collaborate and help each other to assess the quality of their work, how can they work effectively as a team?

This reflection has focused on the assessment of learning (micro level), but logically the challenges highlighted also involve rethinking and modifying both institutional assessment policies and the assessment of entire educational programmes (meso level). Although the changes in assessment practice are required at these two levels, it is also essential that policies and commitment exist at the macro level, that promote the transformation of assessment based on sustainability and social justice so as not to put at risk the integral development of future citizens.


Ashford-Rowe, K., Herrington, J., & Brown, C. (2014). Establishing the critical elements that determine authentic assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(2), 205-222.

Boud, D. (2019). Developing evaluative judgement within courses. 7th International Assessment in Higher Education Conference. 26 and 27 June. Manchester, UK.

Boud, D., Ajjawi, R., Dawson, P., & Tai, J. (Eds.). (2018). Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education. Assessment for Knowing and Producing Quality Work. Sage.

Boud, D., & Soler, R. (2016). Sustainable assessment revisited. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(3), 400-413.

Brown, S. (2015). Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education. Global Perspectives. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Carless, D. (2015). Exploring learning-oriented assessment processes. Higher Education, 69(6), 963-976.

Dann, R. (2014). Assessment as learning: blurring the boundaries of assessment and learning for theory, policy and practice. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 21(2), 149-166.

Earl, L. (2013). Assessment as learning. Using classroom assessment to maximize student learning. Sage.

Ibarra-Saiz, M. S., Rodriguez-Gomez, G., & Boud, D. (2020). Developing student competence through peer assessment: the role of feedback, self-regulation and evaluative judgement. Higher Education.

McArthur, J. (2018). Assessment for social justice: Perspectives and practices within higher education. Bloomsbury Academic.

Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C. (2014). Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(1), 102-122.

Rodriguez-Gomez, G., & Ibarra-Saiz, M. S. (2015). Assessment as learning and empowerment: Towards sustainable learning in higher education. In M. Peris-Ortiz & J. M. Merigo Lindahl (Eds.), Sustainable learning in higher education. Developing competencies for the global marketplace (pp. 1-20). Springer.

Rowe, A. D. (2017). Feelings about feedback: the role of emotions in assessment for learning. In D. Carless, S. M. Bridges, C. K. Y. Chan, & R. Glofcheski (Eds.), Scaling up Assessment for Learning in Higher Education (pp. 159-172). Springer.

Sambell, K., McDowell, L., & Montgomery, C. (2013). Assessment for Learning in Higher Education. Routledge.

Timmis, S., Broadfoot, P., Sutherland, R., & Oldfield, A. (2016). Rethinking assessment in a digital age: opportunities, challenges and risks. British Educational Research Journal, 42(3), 454-476.

Ibarra-Saiz, M.S.(1) (iD), Rodriguez-Gomez, G.(1) (iD), Boud, D.(2) (iD), Rotsaert, T.(3) (iD), Brown, S.(4), Salinas-Salazar, M.L. (5) (iD), & Rodriguez-Gomez, H.M. (5) (iD)

(1) UNESCO Chair on Evaluation and Assessment, Innovation and Excellence in Education. University of Cadiz (Spain).

(2) Deakin University (Melbourne, Australian), University of Technology Sydney (Australia) & Middlesex University (London, United Kingdom). (3) University of Ghent (Belgium). (4) Independent Consultant (Leeds, United Kingdom). (5) University of Antioquia (Medellin, Colombia).

Corresponding author / Autor de contacto: Ibarra-Saiz, M.S. University of Cadiz. Republic Saharaui Avenue; Campus Puerto Real, 11519, Puerto Real, Cadiz (Spain).

Authors / Autores

Ibarra-Saiz, M.S. ( (iD) 0000-0003-4513-702X

Senior Lecturer in Educational Assessment and Evaluation at University of Cadiz. Director of UNESCO Chair on Evaluation and Assessment, Innovation and Excellence in Education. Director of EVALfor Research Group-SEJ509 Assessment & Evaluation in Training Contexts from the Andalusian Programme of Research, Development and Innovation (PAIDI). She develops her research mainly in the field of assessment and evaluation in higher education. She has been principal researcher of more than 10 European, international and national projects, whose results have been published in various articles, book chapters and contributions to international conferences. She is currently the main co-researcher of the FLOASS Project -Learning outcomes and learning analytics in higher education: An action framework from sustainable assessment (RTI2018-093630-B-I00) in which 6 Spanish universities participate.

Rodriguez-Gomez, G. ( (iD) 0000-0001-9337-1270

Professor of Educational Research Methods at the University of Cadiz. He is the coordinator of the strategic area "Studies and research in assessment and evaluation" of the UNESCO Chair on Evaluation and Assessment, Innovation and Excellence in Education. Founding member of the EVALfor Research Group "SEJ509" Assessment and evaluation in training contexts. His research interest is focused on research methods and assessment and evaluation in higher education. He is currently the main co-researcher of the FLOASS Project - Learning outcomes and learning analytics in higher education: A framework for action from sustainable assessment (RTI2018-093630-B-I00). Author of articles, book chapters and contributions to international conferences. He has been President of the Interuniversity Association for Pedagogical Research (AIDIPE). He is currently President of the RED-U Spanish University Teaching Network.

Boud, D. ( (iD) 0000-0002-6883-2722

Alfred Deakin Professor and Director of the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning at Deakin University (Melbourne) and Emeritus Professor at the University of Technology in Sydney. He is also a Professor of Work and Learning at Middlesex University (London). He has written several publications on teaching, learning and assessment in higher and professional education. His current work focuses on the areas of assessment for learning in higher education, academic formation and learning in the workplace. He is one of the most highly cited scholars worldwide in the field of higher education. He has been a pioneer in the development learning-centred approaches to assessment across the disciplines focused on learning, especially in building assessment skills for the long-term learning (Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education, Routledge 2018) and Designing new approaches to feedback (Feedback in Higher and Professional Education, Routledge, 2013). Re-imagining University Assessment in a Digital World, by the publisher Springer, will come out during 2020.

Rotsaert, T. ( (iD) 0000-0001-7946-2096

PhD in Educational Studies. Post-doctoral assistant in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Ghent University. He is coordinator of SIG1- Evaluation and Assessment from the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI). His research is carried out in the field of formative and sustainable assessment, mainly on peer assessment and feedback in higher and secondary education.

Brown, S. (sally@sally-brown net)

Independent consultant in learning, teaching and assessment. Professor Emeritus at Leeds Beckett University in which she has been Academic Vice-Chancellor. She is also a Visiting Professor at Edge Hill University and previously at the universities of Plymouth, Robert Gordon, South Wales and Liverpool John Moores, and at the Australian universities James Cook, Central Queensland and the Sunshine Coast. She has honorary doctorates from the universities of Plymouth, Kingston, Bournemouth, Edinburgh, Napier, and Lincoln. She is an honorary member of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA), and an honorary Senior Member of National Teaching.

Salinas-Salazar, M.L. ( (iD) 0000-0002-4892-7927

Master in Sociology of Education, University of Antioquia. Senior Lecturer (retired) at University of Antioquia. Advisor for the National Council of Accreditation (Colombia), Member of the research group - Institutional Educational Projects -PEI-. She has been Dean of the Faculty of Education at University of Antioquia. Adviser for Quality at the Municipal Secretary of Education, Medellin. Coordinator of Institutional and Social Evaluation Programmes at the Faculty of Education. Her research interest is focused on the area of teacher evaluation and training. Academic advisor on Assessment and Evaluation area for public and private universities in Colombia.

Rodriguez-Gomez, H.M. ( (iD) 0000-0002-7341-0057 Professor at the Faculty of Education of the University of Antioquia (Colombia). She is researcher of the Diverser Group (pedagogy and cultural diversity). She coordinates the master's degrees in Pedagogy and cultural diversity and democracy and school coexistence at the Faculty of Education. She has participated in various research projects related to quality of education, teacher training, school libraries, permanence with equity in the university, assessment for learning. She participates in various groups of study on pedagogy and sexual diversity in schools, from which they advise educational institutions in training on these topics.

Received/Recibido 2020 May 06

Approved /Aprobado 2020 June 03

Published/Publicado 2020 June 22
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Author:Ibarra-Saiz, M.S.; Rodriguez-Gomez, G.; Boud, D.; Rotsaert, T.; Brown, S.; Salinas-Salazar, M.L.; Ro
Publication:RELIEVE: Revista Electronica de Investigacion y Evaluacion Educativa
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2020
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